West Virginia's department of education is partnering with Microsoft Corp. to give high school students across the state the opportunity to obtain industry certification—and, say supporters of the project, give students an inside track on a job.
West Virginia officials recently announced that it has chosen a Microsoft certification program, IT Academy, for high school students, as well as teachers, and school support staff around the state. The partnership was unveiled at a statewide technology conference held last week.
Microsoft and West Virginia officials cite statistics showing a strong overall demand from employers for computer-technology skills. More to the point, within West Virginia, they cite data showing that there are about 900 unfilled jobs in which the posting required skills in some kind of Microsoft product or platform. That demand signals a broader need for Microsoft-specific skills among employers, said Sterling Beane, the chief technology officer for the state's department of education.
West Virginia will be the 12th state to implement a statewide IT Academy program, Microsoft officials say. The others are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. Currently about 4,000 schools around the country participate in Microsoft Academy, the company said.
All students in West Virginia's public high schools will be eligible, as will students in the state's career-and-technical education schools.
"It brings opportunities," Beane said. "It gives our students an advantage when they go out and try to compete in the highly technical job market."
Of course, there are few guarantees of job security, even among workers with tech skills. Some of Microsoft's own employees could testify to that, a week after the major U.S. corporation announced it would lay off 18,000 of its workers, a move the company described as part of a restructuring to align recently-acquired Nokia within the company's broader strategy.
Some school districts in the state are using other technical certification programs, such as ones offered by Cisco, and by CompTIA, an industry trade association, and the state will not discourage those, Beane said. "We want our students to have the broadest opportunity," the West Virginia official said in a follow-up e-mail.
In West Virginia, as in other states, some high school students could obtain the certification and then head straight into the job market, though many others are likely to secure the credential, and then go to either a two- or four-year college, with the idea that the certification will broaden their skills and make them more attractive to employers, said Margo Day, Microsoft's vice president for U.S. education, in an interview.
Students who take part in the IT Academy certification have the opportunity to choose among different curricula depending on their interest and potential career focus, Day said.
The certifications offered by the company are Microsoft Office specialist, Microsoft technology associate, and Microsoft certifications solutions associate/expert state officials said. Those certifications focus on different skills, from preparation for technical careers, to cultivating the ability to design and build "innovative solutions across mulitiple technologies, both on-premise and in the cloud," according to the the company's description of the associate/expert training.
"There is a large need now for people in the workforce who understand Microsoft technology," Day said. The company's credential, she added, "is not a badge—it's professional certification."